My mother named me after my father. Ramona Quintero was the name inscribed on my birth certificate. One my father was not there to sign. I remember being young and sunburnt on my mama’s hip and the wood of a picket sign leaving small splinters in my legs. I remember the small sips of coffee that she fed me as I sat with the other children near the line of women with strong jaws and loud voices. This was the world that I was born into, but not the only one I would ever know.
At thirteen, life was much kinder. Papa had been promoted and no longer had to work down in the mines, but was up in an office. Mama could afford to get help in cleaning the house, and we made improvements to the small home thy provided us with. They even let us build new rooms. My parents also sentt me to school as often as they could. I was good in my studies. Too good. Mama was worried no man would ever love me.
One day, I came home and sat at the kitchen table to do my reading.
“What’re you doing hija?”
“I’m working, mama, I have a test and a paper due tomorrow.”
“Test and paper and books? It’s all you do!”
She wasn’t wrong, but her words stung. At eighteen, I didn’t have any other choice. The rest of America was waiting on me, and in it university. I bought my ticket to the greyhound bus with money I earned tutoring other students. I went to the big city of Albuquerque, and found myself, after several nights on the streets, in the registration office of the school.
The kind woman at the desk helped me know how to register for classes, and find a job, and pick a major of study.
I graduated in just three years with a degree in English. I had no idea what or where I wanted to go or do. So I went home.
I found my Mama alive and Papa barely so. I got to cry at his bedside and hold his rough hand to my cheek as he fell asleep.
I also found a school. Full of young miner’s kids with patchy educations and no idea how many days their abuelas spent in the hot sun, babies on their hips, all fighting for just clean, hot water.
I had no other choice. I became a teacher. I helped these kids learned to write, and to tell their story and the story of Zinc Town, NM.
Author: Elizabeth Brader